MOSCOW, October 10 - RAPSI. The Russian Legal Information Agency (RAPSI) is hosting live text coverage of the hotly anticipated Pussy Riot appeal from the Moscow City Court.
Domestic and international audiences alike were transfixed by this summer's hooliganism trial of three members of Russian punk rock collective Pussy Riot. The case attracted heated controversy worldwide and drew in advocates from both sides of the spectrum.
On February 21, five girls wearing brightly colored balaclavas stormed the altar of downtown Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral to perform an anti-Putin protest song entitled, “Holy Sh*t.” The Pussy Riot girls have remained in pretrial detention since their early March arrest for an incident that some have lauded as a valid exercise of free speech, and that others have lambasted as blasphemous.
Judge Marina Syrova’s decision on August 17 to convict members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich of hooliganism and sentence them to two years in a prison stoked the flames, provoking a number of Western politicians and international organizations to question human rights and the Rule of Law in Russia.
The appeal was initially set to begin on October 1, but was postponed when Samutsevich unexpectedly stated at the start of the hearing her desire to sever ties with the group’s trial defense team and obtain new representation. She was granted the postponement in order to hire new attorneys and to provide them with sufficient time to read up on the case and devise a new strategy.
15:35 Well, that's all for now. Thanks to everyone for tuning in and stay tuned to our news feed for regular updates on all (legal) things Pussy Riot!
15:32 The prosecutor hasn't come out to speak with the press, unfortunately.
15:30 Commenting on the verdict, Head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights Mikhail Fedotov says: "The sentence is a decision. The court has to make decisions. But it seems to me it would only be fair if all three had been given a suspended sentence."
15:25 Samutsevich says that she's happy, but very tired. The crowd is almost too noisy to hear anything she's saying.
15:18 And Samutsevich is free. She is greeted by a thrilled crowd of spectators, applauding her release.
15:18 Irina Khrunova has not excluded the possibility of appealing the sentence, stating that "this is not the final victory." She is not satsfied with the court's failure to adquately distinguish Samutsevich's actions from those of the other two, maintaining that the former did not engage in any of the actions that offended the sensitivities of religious devotees, such as dancing and shouting.
15:14 After the paperwork is filled out Samutsevich will be transported back to satisfy procedural requirements in showing that she legally left her place of detention; that she didn't run away, for instance.
15:13 Meanwhile, Yekaterina Samutsevich is somewhere in the court filling out paperwork for her release.
15:12 "I do not understand the distinction made by the court; it is unclear how their roles were significantly different in characterizing the circumstances. We had rightfully anticipated the release of all three girls." - Feigin
15:08 Volkova, Feigin, and Polozov - the three defense attorneys who have been on the case since day one - express their gratitude to Khrunova for her ability to jump in at the last minute and represent Samutsevich.
15:04 Polozov points to the fact that Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are both mothers of small children in arguing that it would have been logical to grant them conditional sentences.
15:03 It's pretty much impossible to leave the courtroom at this point. The exits are blocked by dozens of cameras and lawyers giving interviews. Bailiffs are trying their hardest to push the spectators out into the rain.
15:00 Deefense attorney Mark Feigin says he doesn't understand the court, but he's happy for Samutsevich.
14:59 Anna Usachyova said that according to the decision, Samutsevich may be rehabilitated without being isolated from general society. She added that the court will impose a number of obligations on Samutsevich.
14:54 Attorneys for Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have vowed to appeal their verdict to the European Court of Human Rights.
14:50 Samutsevich's father says that he's thrilled and can't wait to be reunited with his daughter. She's dealing with some paperwork now and will be released very soon.
In the aftermath
14:43 Samutsevich has been in custody for 178 days.
14:40 Court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova will soon deliver a statement.
14:39 Samutsevich is looking back at her former co-defendants while being led out of the courtroom to freedom.
14:36 The sentence has been confirmed for Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina - two years in a prison colony.
14:36 Samutsevich will be released on probation immediately. This announcement was met with a loud proclomation of "hoorah's" from the audience.
14:35 There will be a new sentence - Samutsevich will be released on probation.
14:33 The judge has returned and the hearing has started back up.
14:30 The hearing will start back up shortly. The lawyers and relatives of the defendants have come into the room. The general audience is starting to be let in.
14:14 The Pussy Riot girls were taken in a convoy out of the courtroom during break. The audience has dispersed for the canteen.
14:10 Our live video coverage has taken a coffee break, by the way. It will resume as soon as the hearing does.
13:50 The court announced a recess for discussion. A sentence will be announced today at 14:30. We'll be back with you in 20 minutes.
13:45 Pavlova insists that the girls must be impisoned, as fines and probations would prove inadequate for the gravity of their crimes. The prosecution is up, speaking very quickly, formally, stoically.
13:43 Pavlova points to the fact that the defendants are seeking to discredit the experts on the basis of their faith: "They say that Orthodox devotees cannot be experts. At the same time, they invited to the witness stand Deacon Kuraev Jemal, who is a [Moslem devotee]." She further questioned the defense team's motivation in inviting opposition activist Alexei Navalny to the stand, pointing to his lack of expertise in anything relevant to the case.
13:40 She believes that the examination was adequate, and that the defense is merely trying to drag out the trial.
13:39 Pavlova charges that proof that the groups animosities are targeted more broadly than at Putin can be found in the fact that they insulted God in church by swearing.
13:38 She notes that she believes Orthodox believers qualify as a social group. Again, this classification - an ambiguous one under Russian law - served as an aggravating factor in the trial court's consideration of the case.
13:35 Pavlova finds it funny to listen to the defense team's claims of a lack of evidence.
13:33 Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are laughing. Samutsevich looks very strained, although she is trying to hide it.
13:32 "The went to the cathedral with a group of accomplices, shoved priests, [and] entered an enclosed space. Collaborators shot the video footage in order to draw publicity to their actions." - Pavlova. She stresses that the defendants never actually denied any of the facts.
13:31 Pavlova believes that Samutsevich must be held fully responsible for hooliganism as she intended to take part in the punk rock prayer and resisted security.
13:30 These very complaints echo of political action, excepting the new complaints posed by Khrunova. She insistst that the verdict should be upheld and the defense complaints rejected.
13:26 Larisa Pavlova is up next, representing six of the victims. She starts by noting that this case has been as theatrical as a talk show or a political rally.
13:25 "The actions of the convicted have nothing to do with politics, democracy, or freedom." - Taratukhin
13:24 He urges that the support of Putin by the Orthodox believers during presidential elections doesn't give the Pussy Riot members the right to defy the church and other supporters, Buddhist and other religious groups among them.
13:21 Taratukhin maintains the adequacy of the sentence.
13:19 Taratukhin is suprised that no witnesses were suggested by the Pussy Riot members or their lawyers, charging that that's why nobody was questioned on their side. Their requests for witnesses came after the trial had already begun. Thus in his view, the court's decision not to allow the defense team to call certain witnesses was logical.
13:15 He recalls that the defendants do not consider themselves to be members of a criminal group, but rather of a punk rock collective. "In the country's main Orthodox cathedral, women begged them to stop the offense, and they pushed them away. Is that motivated by religious love and affection?" - Taratukhin
13:11 Alexei Taratukhin is up. He negatively assessed the request for a special ruling to restrict President Putin from expressing sentiments about the trial. "Everyone has the freedoms of thought and speech. Should we force the highest official in the country to give up his opinion?" He then commended Khrunova for her brilliant capacity to read in on the trial with so little time.
13:09 "As for the penalty, none of the defendants have a thirst for blood. There are a range of opinions on the 2-2.5 year sentence. Our victims are not empowered to determine the sentence." - Lyalin
13:05 He is lamenting the way the trial made his clients feel. They were deeply offended by the cross-exam questions about demons, fools, healing grace, etc.
13:04 Lyalin charges that the Defense structured their argument that the expression "Holy Sh*t" is not offensive around a TV series called "Interns" and the Cambridge Dictionary of English Idioms.
13:03 He is reminding the court that Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral is the pulsing heart of the Russian Othodox Church, and that its solea is pretty much the most offensive possible place to stage a punk rock prayer as far as devout believers are concerned.
13:00 He does agree that Samutsevich didn't have a chance to participate in the punk rock prayer.
12:58 According to Lyalin, no one has contested the truthful testimonies offered by the victims. "The victims have confirmed in the absence of political motives, the mere [presence] of offensiveness to religious sensitivities." He goes on, "That their song about the Virgin Mary degrades and offends the sensitivities of religious believers is unacceptable."
12:54 He is now reading out the sentiments of his clients, who were deeply offended by the punk rock prayer.
12:51 Attorney for the victims Lev Lyalin is up. He cannot accept the defense position that the punk rock prayer must not be considered hooliganism, based on the assertion that canonical rules are not the same as general laws and are thus not binding on everyone.
12:48 She explains that the verdict treated the actions of all three girls as identical, erroneously failing to take Samutsevich's individual actions into account. "The punishment for an unfinished crime should be substantially less than for that of a finished crime," she urges. As with all of the defense attorneys, she concluded to a roaring applause.
12:46 She is reading out witness testimony from the trial attesting to the fact that Samutsevich didn't make it to the solea before being apprehended by cathedral security.
12:45 Khrunova argues that Samutsevich didn't dance, sing, or yell anything. For all intents and purposes, she didn't participate in the punk rock prayer.
12:43 Samutsevich's attorney Irina Khrunova is up (Earlier, Samutsevich refused to further use the services of attorney Violetta Volkova). Khrunova is reiterating the distinction between Samutsevich's actions and those of the other girls, urging that her client did not commit hooliganism. Rather, she argues, Samutsevich merely donned a balaclava and a guitar, and was detained before she even made it to the solea.
12:40 Polozov is talking about the defendants' philanthropic activities. Some of them participated in Orthodox charity funds and activities, which attests to a lack of religious hatred, especially that aimed toward the Orthodox church.
12:37 Defense attorney Nikolay Polozov is now up.
12:35 He is now accusing President Putin of pressuring the court, and is urging the court not to give in. "This is unacceptable, even for heads of state." - Feigin
12:31 Judge Syrova consistently failed to accept motions or listen to complaints, according to Feigin. He goes so far as to accuse the trial judge of having worked in collusion with the victims. Noting Judge Syrova's partiality, he urges, "We believe that there was a conspiracy between the victims, their attorneys, and the court."
12:27 Defense attorney Mark Feigin is up now. He is focusing on various procedural irregularities that dominated the trial and pre-trial proceedings. There are lots of them, and he's starting with the court's decision to extend the girls' detention by six months.
12:26 "Canonical regulations are not common, even some members of the Russian Orthodox Church fail to comply," Volkova urges. Volkova further urges that no one has proven yet that a criminal action occurred.
12:23 She reiterates that Orthodox believers can't be considered a "social group" for purposes of satisfying the aggravating circumstance elements in this case.
12:22 She is again pointing to the fact that so much of the trial adjudication centered on a video montage, rather than the girls' actions in and of themselves. She urges that the first instance court failed to examine the real circumstances and actions of thedefendants in church, considerng the actions shown in a footage instead.
12:19 It's now defense attorney Violetta Volkova's turn to speak. She insists that the girls timed their performance to be at the precise moment when there were very few people in the cathedral in order not to offend their religious sensitivities.
12:14 She objects to the sentence. The judge interrupted Tolokonnikova when she spoke again about the group's political motives in the church. Tolokonnikova went on to question many of the issues with the trial, including the court's failure to allow the accused to meet privately with their defense team.
12:08 Tolokonnikova has taken the stand.
Tolokonnikova is pleading
12:03 The audience in the courtroom let out an applause as Alyokhina completed her statement. "I have no hope that my case will be remanded for a retrial. In seven months of persecution, lies, and a grueling judicial process, I've lost hope." - Alyokhina
"We went to the cathedral to express our protest against the merging of church and political actors. Maybe it was not acceptable in our society, maybe society can't handle a punk performance in a cathedral. But this is merely a conflict of forms." - Alyokhina
12:02 She's now talking about President Putin's recent sentiment that the trial court delivered an appropriate sentence.
12:01 She too emphasizes that the punk prayer was of a purely political nature.
11:59 Alyokhina is speaking to the integrity of Russia's legal system, stating her belief that it suffered a major blow from the recent Khamovnichesky Court verdict, recalling the presence of special forces and K-9 units, and the failure to admit observers into the courtroom.
11:58 Alyokhina is now speaking.
Alyokhina is pleading
11:57 Samutsevich is also explaining that she chose to sever ties with her former lawyers because the previous attorneys, who still represent two other girls, were busy defending all three of them and didn't pay enough attention to her individual actions, which were very different than those of the other girls.
11:54 "I meant to hold a protest, not to insult believers. This is the position of all three of us, there is no split in the group." - Samutsevich
11:52 Samutsevich will be the first of the girls to speak. She claims she had no religious motives, only political ones.
Samutsevich is pleading
11:50 Samutsevich's attorney is also asking for her sentence to be overturned. She claims that her client did not violate public order, as she hadn't even reached the solea before the was apprehended. In its opinion, the court hadn't distinguished between the girls' actions.
11:43 The defense team further points to the fact that the case wasn't built against the girls' actions in and of themselves, but rather against a video montage of the performance that was uploaded to the Internet, referring to the video as a work of art. This is all coming from the complaint, still being read out by the judge.
11:41 The defense team points to the lack of evidence of their clients' actions, and a lack their mens rea, maintaining that it hasn't been proven that their punk prayer was motivated by religious hatred.
11:40 In sum, on appeal the defense team seeks to overturn the sentence, based on its conclusion that the sentence is disproportionate to the facts of the case.
11:38 It seems mostly to center on the defense team's contentions with the aforementioned examination.
11:35 That's it for motions. The judges are now considering the appeal on the merits. One judge is reading out the complaint at the heart of this appeal.
11:34 The judge says the results of the examination will be considered during the course of this appeal hearing.
11:33 And again, motion denied.
11:32 All of the defense attorneys and defendants voiced support for a new examination, but the victims attorney Larisa Pavlova objected, chiding Volkova for what she perceived to be a cheap PR move.
11:31 This is not the first time Volkova has challenged the examination results. She devoted several hours to questioning its legitimacy and value as an evidentiary tool during the trial. It was crucial during that stage to determining that the infamous punk prayer was motivated by religious hatred.
11:29 The attorney for the victims objects, as usual, claiming to see no reason the motion should be granted.
11:24 Defense attorney Violetta Volkova believes that the expert who conducted the examination had no right to do so as he is neither a psychologist, nor a linguist and he is a devout Orthodox Christian, which means that his interests stand in contrast to those of the defendants.
11:22 By the way, we reported last time that Samutsevich had agreed to be represented by Irina Khrunova and Farid Murtazin. She has since terminated her agreement with the latter, and is only being represented today by the former.
11:20 The defense team is requesting a new psychological/linguistic examination of the girls, maintaining that the one which served as evidence during the Pussy Riot trial was conducted in violation of the law.
11:17 The defense attorneys have also asked to introduce several witnesses. Attorneys for the victims object as they believe that it is an attempt to win time by the defense and that the witnesses bear no meaningful relationship to the case. The prosecutor objects too. The motion was denied.
11:15 The defense attorneys have asked to amend the text of the girls' appeal. The judges granted the motion.
Defense attorneys speaking
11:12 Samutsevich is represented today by attorney Irina Khrunova, and the defendants will not be filing any motions.
11:07 The hearing has begun, and you can now check out our live video broadcast (again, in Russian) here.
11:05 Predictably, the hearing has not begun on time. If you're interested, check out our parallel Russian-language coverage!
11:03 Claws are coming out as journalists fight for seats with a good view of the courtroom. No one wants to be stuck in the last row.
11:00 RAPSI Russian will be hosting a live video broadcast as well today. If you understand some Russian or just want to take a look at the hearing for yourself, check it out.
10:58 Journalists are now placing bets on which of the girls will decide to sever ties with her defense team today, although last time Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina seemed pretty happy with their attorneys.
10:54 So far the photographers have been allowed in, but the rest of us are still waiting. In the meantime, don't forget to check us out on Facebook, or in case you prefer Twitter, follow our coverage there using the hashtag #PussyRiot!
10:47 The girls are already in the court, but the attorneys have not yet arrived.
10:46 Security is strong around the court, as usual. Riot police and regular officers alike are patrolling the perimeter, reinforced by bailiffs and K-9 units. At the moment, activists are few--in fact only one can be seen holding a sign urging the court to release the prisoners.
10:45 Good morning RAPSI readers! We're starting to line up in front of Moscow City Court, where Pussy Riot will try its hand at an appeal. With you today are Anna Shubina, Pavel Khlyupin, and Ingrid Burke. Don't forget to hit refresh!